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Champaign, Danville, and Urbana school leaders address shortages, safety, and breaking barriers in TV special

(L-R) Danville 118 School superintendent Alicia Geddis, Champaign Unit 4 Schools superintendent Shelia Boozer, and Urbana School District 116 superintendent Jennifer Ivory-Tatum.

URBANA – Children still face mental health challenges as the COVID pandemic comes to an end.

That’s one of the lessons garnered during an hourlong television special with the school superintendents of Champaign Unit 4, Danville School District 118, and Urbana School District 116. The TV special was taped in late September at Illinois Public Media studios.

It will air Thursday, October 13, 7:00-8:00 p.m. on WILL-TV. It will also premiere at the same time on the Illinois Public Media YouTube Channel and PBS Video App.

Danville superintendent Alicia Geddis says staff shortages are impacting the district’s 4,800 students.

“I’m short pyschs [psychologists], social workers, counselors, and my children particularly because of the pandemic, my babies are suffering with social emotional issues. And I need to address that first. I have to make them well before I can educate them,” said Geddis.

Champaign Unit 4 Schools superintendent Shelia Boozer says all children are still having a tough time.

“Trauma does not have a zip code. So it doesn’t matter what our kids look like or where they come from, every zip code in Unit 4 is experiencing some kind of trauma. But we don’t just want to stay there. We want to help bring our kids through that. Teach them to be resilient even more. And to work through what it is that’s happening in their lives,” said Boozer.

The superintendents also addressed the challenges of recruiting educators to the central Illinois region. Urbana Schools 116 superintendent Jennifer Ivory-Tatum says the shortages are real.

“We are short special education teachers. We’re short teaching assistants. And I mentioned our amazing teachers and I have to mention our amazing administrators. Because our administrators, on any given day, are subbing in classrooms because we don’t have enough substitute teachers,” said Ivory-Tatum.

The superintendents talked about paying out of their own pockets to help students and families affected by emergencies in their districts.

They also talked about this being the first time that four of the largest school districts in Central Illinois are led by African American women.  Rochelle Clark, superintendent of Decatur Public Schools, was scheduled to take part in the September 28 taping. However, she had to cancel at the last minute due to a medical emergency.

Illinois Public Media News and Public Affairs Director Reginald Hardwick moderated the panel with Tracy Parsons, Community Relations Manager and Facilitator of Community Coalition in Champaign.

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Reginald Hardwick

Reginald Hardwick

Reginald Hardwick is the News & Public Affairs Director for the Illinois Newsroom. He started at WILL in October of 2019 after serving as News Director for WKAR in East Lansing, Michigan. Previously, he was a news producer and manager at the NBC station in Dallas, where he won 7 Emmy awards. Born in Vietnam, Reginald is a graduate of the University of Northern Colorado. Email: rh14@illinois.edu Twitter: @RNewsWILL

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